ONLY WHEN I LAUGH by Len Deighton
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A blast from Deighton's past: published in England in 1968, this funny and breezy caper novel reveals yet another facet of the author's varied talent, previously manifested here in spy thrillers (The Ipcress File, The Berlin Game trilogy), aviation dramas (Goodbye, Mickey Mouse, etc.), and paranoid historical fantasies (SS-GB; XPD). Deighton structures his lighthearted story in threes: three English con-artist heroes (who, in an unusual gambit, alternate first-person narrative duties), and three cons. Beginning with their first scare, two of the trio--uneducated but ambitious Bob, and his leader, 50-ish and arrogantly upper-class Silas--spend as much time bickering as developing their schemes, with the third member--pretty and bright Liz, Silas' lover--as the prize and bone of contention. Deighton constructs the scares in convincing detail, beginning with Silas' renting out New York City office space and posing as chief of a dummy mining corporation in order to rip off two wealthy but naive investors. Morals play no role here; even when Bob and Liz later learn that one of the financially ruined marks has killed himself, they scarcely bat an eye. When the second scare, an attempt to sell nonexistent arms to a would-be African dictator, falls through, Bob erupts from his subordinate status and organizes the third scare, humiliating Silas and stealing Liz away in the bargain. Deighton keeps the action skimming along through banterish dialogue and rapid changes of scene, winding up in Beirut where, after depicting the fleecing of a global financial wizard, he lets poetic justice reign--by allowing the fleecers to be fleeced. Far enough off Deighton's beaten tracks to disappoint his fans insistent on the usual--but fan or not, anyone with a yen for a brisk comic lark will find it here.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1987
Publisher: Mysterious Press--dist. by Ballantine